From Bucharest

Am găsit un monument. Ce facem cu el?

Posted by Strainu on May 21, 2013
From Bucharest, Romana, Society / No Comments

Într-o plecare de la sfârșitul lunii trecute, despre care o să scriu mai multe mai târziu, am avut ocazia să constat apariția pe multe din drumurile naționale din Oltenia și Banat a unor indicatoare spre diverse monumente istorice. În principiu, asta este o veste foatre bună. Dar ce faci după ce cotești de pe drumul național (relativ bun) pe un drum comunal plin de gropi sau mai rău, pe o potecă îngustă?

Acum doi ani și ceva, când a apărut prima dată ideea concursului Wiki Loves Monuments România, am plecat într-o plimbare prin Maramureș în căutarea Mocăniței de la Vișeul de Sus și a vestitelor biserici din zonă. Am constatat atunci că dacă monumentele aveau norocul să fie pe drumul principal, dădeai ușor de ele. Dacă nu, îți trebuia musai o hartă sau un ghid.

Morile de la Eftimie Murgu

Indicator de pe DN

Între timp, situația s-a îmbunătățit. Mulțumită proiectelor europene de dezvoltare rurală, multe monumente beneficiază acum de indicatoare, plasate de obicei chiar sub indicatorul spre sat. Pentru unele dintre ele a fost chiar modernizat drumul și eventual au fost refăcute prin aceleași proiecte.

Din păcate, în afară de acel unic indicator, în cele mai multe cazuri nu există nicio altă informație despre sau indicator spre monumentul respectiv.  În cazul monumentelor din sate, singura soluție este să întrebi localnicii pe care din ulițe să o iei. Bineînțeles, ca orășean trebuie să fii foarte atent căci oamenii de la țară au alte referințe în ceea ce privește calitatea drumului și s-ar putea să rămâi suspendat cu mașina pe drumul “bunicel” de acolo.

Pentru orășele, este posibil să mai găsești câte o hartă în fața primăriei sau la gară. Totuși, și aici ai o problemă: să nu care cumva să-ți treacă prin minte a întreba de strada pe care ai aflat de pe net că se află monumentul, căci nimeni nu va ști ce nume poartă fiecare stradă. Este oarecum de înțeles, având în vedere și obiceiul unor primării de a da mai multe nume aceleiași străzi. De exemplu, în Oravița strada principală se numește, pe rând, Andrei Șaguna, Eftimie Murgu, 1 decembrie 1918, precum și “Piața Unirii” și “Piața Ferdinand”, care sunt orice numai piețe nu.

Soluția e să întrebi după numele local al monumentului. Chiar și atunci, s-ar putea ca locuitorii din celălalt capăt al orașului să nu te poată ajuta…

Să zicem că totuși ai răzbit până la monument. Ce ai de făcut acolo, în afară de poze pentru concurs? Dacă nu ești specialist în arhitectură, și majoritatea vizitatorilor nu sunt, nu mare lucru. Cu toată avalanșa de site-uri “specializate” pe monumente apărute recente, puține au informații originale, relevante pentru un număr mare de monumente. De cele mai multe ori trebuie să “sapi” de dinainte în căutarea unor informații.

Această gaură informațională ar trebui, după părerea mea, umplută de cei care întrețin monumentele. Mulți au ca scuză faptul că nu sunt fonduri nici pentru reparațiile de primă necesitate, darmite pentru informații… Și totuși, nici măcar acolo unde au fost bani pentru restaurare, nu s-a investit (aproape) deloc în ceva indicații pentru vizitatori.

Morile de la Eftimie Murgu - indicatorMorile de la Eftimie Murgu - indicator

Indicatoare

Un exemplu relevant mi se par morile de apă de la Eftimie Murgu. Fiind un monument eminamente tehnic, este oarecum logic ca vizitatorii să aibă mai multă nevoie de îndrumări asupra modului de funcționare decât în cazul unei biserici sau al unei case particulare. O parte din aceste mori au fost refăcute de muzeul “Astra” din Sibiu acum câțiva ani într-un proiect european.

Morile de la Eftimie Murgu - plăcuță

Plăcuță cu numele morii

Au fost instalate câteva plăci în imediata apropiere a monumentelor (fără a acoperi zona dintre DN și sat, bineînțeles) și fiecare moară în parte avea numele ei și numele proiectului. Nimic despre modul de funcționare, amenajările necesare sau istoricul acestor mori. Din fericire, două dintre ele sunt încă funcționale, iar proprietarii lor sunt suficient de amabili încât să-ți explice toate detaliile și legendele locului.

Ce-i drept, dacă ne-am fi făcut temele din timp, am fi aflat poate că în școala generală din sat există un mic muzeu cu o moară desfăcută. Din ce-am văzut însă în pozele găsite pe net, și aici trebuie să te bazezi pe bunăvoința ghidului…

În aceste condiții, tot ce vă rămâne de făcut ca turiști “vânători” de monumente este să citiți cât mai multe despre monumentele din zona unde urmează să mergeți (puteți începe cu o hartă a monumentelor din țară [se încarcă greu] și cu Wikipedia) și eventual să vă înarmați cu un telefon mobil și acces la net.  Pentru cei cu smartphone-uri Android sau iPhone vă recomand aplicația “Monumente România” realizată de Asociația Prietenilor Muzeului Național de Istorie a României, care îmbină în mod fericit harta și un modul de realitate alternativă cu paginile de informații ale site-ului lor, paginile de pe Wikipedia și câteva mii de imagini.

Voi ce alte resurse folosiți pentru a profita cât mai mult de vizitele unor monumente istorice?

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Weekend Trip: Vienna

Posted by Strainu on May 09, 2013
From Bucharest / 2 Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road

Map

Many of the Romanians that go to Austria for ski or other forms of tourism choos to go by car. From Budapest to Vienna you only make about 3h on the highway, and from Bucharest to Budapest a maximum of 12 hours. It takes roughly the same ammount of time by bus.

You can also choose the train. The journey takes 20h and you have 3 trains every day: one direct trains and two trains via Budapest.

We chose the third way, the plane. Austrian has 5 daily flights and Tarom 1 or 2. That means you will find decent prices even with a few days before the flight. The flight time is 1h45 – less than the ground checks (as you know, airlines recommend arriving at the airport 2h before the flight).

Even if the trip is a little long by car or train, the diversity is a good thing, earning the route a good score.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

Vienna has a huge diversity of hotels and even more flats you can rent. In past visits here I chose low-cost hotels near the railway station, but this time, we rented an apartment from govienna.net, one of the two from Quellenstrasse.

The apartment has scores pretty much OK on the Internet, but for us it was a disappointment. The building was in the Turkish neighborhood, but there were no issues except on the New Year’s Eve, when people were still throwing firecrackers at 3 or 4 A.M. when we returned from the city.

The exterior of the building looked decent, but the stairs were in really bad shape and the apartment had a weird smell. There was enough furniture for 4 people, but there were some weird stuff, like the window above the entrance door or the toilet which was separate from the bathroom.

Rating: ★★★½☆

What to see

St. Stephan’s Cathedral

Stephansdom is The Cathedral in Vienna. There are other churched in town, but this is by far the most interesting and probably the biggest.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The entrance is free and so is photography (but without flash). The interior seemd a little darker than other cathedrals from Europe, probably due to the fact that we went in winter. Still, this was helping to underline the beauty of the stained-glass windows.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Some details from the interior:
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

After finishing with the interior of the cathedral, we decided to pay up 4€ to clinb the south tower. Although the panorama is interesting, the horses from the place look much more interesting 🙂
Viena 2011-2012

Talking about the panorama, let’s look to the Prater…
Viena 2011-2012

…and then to the bells of the cathedral (can anyone translate the inscription?).
Viena 2011-2012

After descending from the tower, we stick around the cathedral waiting for noon. Why? We wanted to see the Anker clock.

The Anker clock

It was built between 1911-1917 and it is both a figurine clock, but also a bridge between the two parts of the Anker building. The 12 figurines move at 1/hour, except at noon, when they all go through the window in 10-15 minutes.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

We then went on for a stroll downtown, admiring the different monuments of the city.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

For lunch, we couldn’t miss the famous Wienerschnitzel:
Viena 2011-2012

Haus des Meeres Vivarium

Although recently returned from the Asia trip , where we saw a lot of zoos of all kinds, we thought it couldn’t hurt to compare them with the European zoos.

We weren’t going to visit the actual Vienna zoo untill the last day of our trip. Until then, we went for an evening visit to the Hous of the seas, a huge aquarium spreading on 7 floors.
Viena 2011-2012

As a matter of fact, they were not only hosting marine animals, but also species one would see in the desert or the jungle. Unfortunately the name of most of the species have slipped my mind.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

They had all kind of turtles, from the small ones like the one below to the huge, 100-kilos and 100-years-living ones.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The primates had their own artificial jungle spreading on 3 floors on one side of the building. Impressive!
Viena 2011-2012

Big turles…
Viena 2011-2012

The view from the roof.
Viena 2011-2012

The Opera

The Imperial Opera is another one of the buildings that every touristic guide recommends. The size is not really impressive, but the architectural details make up for that.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Interior

The really interesting part is the visit inside. The guided visits start around noon every dai, take about an hour and cost 6.5€ for the adults. The guide is avalable in multiple language, including, of course, English.

We started with the main hall. Note the 3 rows of loges. The first thing that attracted our attention was the scene: fortunately there were no rehearsals (hard on the 31st of December), so we would have full access to the backstage.
Viena 2011-2012

Detail of the concert hall.
Viena 2011-2012

My mom used to tell me that the really cool part of a theater is the stage, but I didn’t believe her. I changed my mind when I arrived on the Vienna Opera stage.

Imagine 5 floors of scaffolding, pulleys and ropes, all with a precise role in the movement of the stage elements. It was like being in a huge building site, the only thing missing being the workers on scaffolding whistling at the ladies below. 🙂

Viena 2011-2012

The rest of the buildng was not bad either, with ceilings comparable with the most beutiful palaces. Perhaps because the opera was one of the favorite pastimes of nobles from past centuries?

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The technical museum

As beautiful as old buildings may be, I still prefer technical stuff (professional bias, probably). I was very happy that the group I was with agreed to visit the Technical Museum. Ironically, it was also hosted in a huge Hapsburg palace, but with an entrance made of steel and glass.

Viena 2011-2012

Right after the entrance there was an area dedicated to interactive experiments meant to explain some simple physical fenomena. Unfortunately I was too busy playing so I took no pictures, but I should mention that this section had the same size as the whole Bucharest technical Museum.

We then went to the railway section. Unlike other technical museums I’ve seen, in Vienna the locomotives were not just shown, but they were cut open and illuminated in order to illustrate the various components.

Viena 2011-2012

The image below shows that Romania is much better off than 100 years ago: at the time we barely had a few steam locomotives, while Austria already had electric locomotives in service.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

One of the “hands-on” exhibits: a miniature solar park fueled by a lamp illustrated the energy you could produce.
Viena 2011-2012

Followed the factory and industrial products’ section.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

These bulbs are light-years away from LEDs 😀
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The last floor hosted the plane and car exhibition. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time, we went really fast through that floor.

We still saw some Steyrs…

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

…a Mercedes racecar (I think it was produces also by Steyr-Daimler)…
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

… and a beetle (I don’t remember the producer, but it seems another Steyr)
Viena 2011-2012

Below we have a Gräf și a few angines, all manufactured in Austria.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Prater

I don’t think the Praterul needs an introduction. In case you haven’t heard of it, you can start exploring from the Wikipedia article.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The City Hall

For the New Year’s Eve we went to the park in front of the city hall. I’m sorry I haven’t had the chance to visit the interior, but if you’re interested, you can find information about guided tours on the website.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Happy new year!
Viena 2011-2012

Schonbrunn

The last day was dedicated to Schonbrunn, including the park and zoo. Although the winter views are much less impressive than the palace in a sunny day, I still liked it better than Versailles, which apparently (I’m not 100% convinced) is the original inspiration for this palace.

Unfortunately, photos were forbidden in the palace, so I only have a few outside shots.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The picture below is in fact from the Zoo, but the building was in the same style as all the other buildings from the gardens.
Viena 2011-2012

The Vienna Zoo

The Vienna Zoo is the oldest zoo in the world that is still functional (established in 1752). It hosts over 4600 animals from 480 species, including pandas and other endangered species.

In the late 80s it almost went bankrupt, but it was “privatized” (actually, a company owned by the city was created to administer the zoo) and with a smart private manager, it was saved. Sounds a lot like what is happening to some Romanian companies, expect for the “saved” part…

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

It was the first time we saw a Koala, even if we had hunted it throughout Asia.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Apparently not all marine animals were at Haus des Meeres.
Viena 2011-2012

The elephants were a little thin, but not as sad as the one from Bucharest (when it was still alive).
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Rating: ★★★★½

Food

You can try pork chops with beer, some ribs or even Chinese food. In this trip we trusted the recommendations found on the Interned ad we did not regret it – even if some restaurants are true food factoreis, with clients coming and going like on the assembly line, they don’t give up quality and keep the prices decent.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Alternatives

Any City Break in Europe will be exiting if you’re going there for the first time – just find a cheap plane ticket and go for it. Closer to Bucharest you have Budapest or Bratislava. If taking a plane, go for Prague, Warsaw or even Lyon and London.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Links

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Weekend Trip: Budapest

Posted by Strainu on March 06, 2013
From Bucharest / 1 Comment

Versiunea în română aici.

The road

Map

I thought I should start a series of trip reports from Central Europe with some pictures from a city-break in Budapest on December 1st (which is the Romanian National Day, making the date a bit ironic if you are a Romanian). There aren’t too many pictures because my camera passed away while being there.

Since WizzAir stopped serving the OTP-BUD trip, airline prices went up, so we decided to go by car. The trip takes about 11-12 hours unless you catch some big queue at the border crossing. We left at about 3 a.m. on fog and we arrived in a sunny Budapest, just in time to catch the afternoon rush hour. The queues were bigger that in Bucharest, but everybody (drivers, pedestrians and cyclists) was much more disciplined.


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr
Notă: ★★★★½

Accomodation

Usually, when going through Europe I search for hotels based on recommendations or I go with the big hotel chains, which offer virtually the same services no matter what country you’re in. This time, since we were 2 pairs, we thought it was more convenient to go with a 2 room rental apartment. We chose Lord Appartments, right in downtown Pesta, 3 minutes away from the Opera. The price was 120€/2 nights (+30€ for parking). The picture above is from the street we stayed on.

If you think the parking fee is expensive, you should know that throughout downtown Budapest you have to pay for parking, and rpices are quite high (up to 430 HUF – about 1,5 €/h). Once we got there we found out that parking in weekends is free, but given that the Lord parking was covered and guarded, I’d say it was worth paying for it.

Rating: ★★★½☆

What to see (in a day and a half)

After leaving the car at the appartment, we went for a stroll in Pesta.


Troleibuz Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

Having enough of “road food”, we went on to teste some traditional Hungarian food in Liszt Ferenc square.


Gulaș Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Ceva mai puțin tradițional by strainu, on Flickr

Afterward, we went for the Christmas market in front of St. Istvan’s (or John) basilica.


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

From there, you can quickly reach the Danube…


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

The next day, due to the cold and the limited time, we decided to take one of the many tourist bus lines. Since we wanted to pay by card, we got a “bonus” walk to the company’s headquarters in the inner court of a beautiful Art Nouveau building.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012
Opera din Budapesta by strainu, on Flickr

The bus leaves from the center on Andrassy st., the ex-central boulevard of Pesta, then reaches the Millenium square. The audioguide is available in 20 languages, including a very good Romanian, much over other audioguides I’ve used.
Budapesta 2012

Piața Millenium Budapesta 2012

We were feeling courageous, so we went to the (uncovered) top floor – and freezed badly 😀

Budapesta 2012

After half an hour, we crossed one of the bridges to Buda and we were getting near the Fisherman’s Bastion…
Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

The look from below is cool, but the panorama from the Bastion is much more attractive. The curch in the back is called St. Stephen and it deserves the detour, even if it’s not comparable to the churches in other imperial capitals of Europe.

Below you can find some images from around the Castle.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

The initial plan was to also visit the inside of the castel, but it was already getting pretty late so we decided to move on. The buses’ course would go on to the Citadel, a fortification used during the Second World War. Today you will find a wax museum inside.

Budapesta 2012

You could get on the cannons from the yard and even look through the optical targeting system. Pretty cool, no?

Budapesta 2012

At the far end of the Citadel there is a huge statue visible from the whole city of Pesta.

Budapesta 2012

Back in Downtown:

Budapesta 2012

An interesting church, build on a street corner:

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

And a detail:
Budapesta 2012

The last few hours of daylight were dedicate to a small cruise on the Danube. The ticket was a combo with the panoramic bus, and the cruise has several stops from where you could visit various parts of the city. We wanted to see the Margaret Island, but the winter schedule meant that we only caught the last cruise of the day. At least we had the chance to catch some nice puctures at sunset. The camera was beginning to fail, so between pictures I had to warm it up under my jacket.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

We had our diner at a medieval restaurant called Sir Lancelor. It looked much like the Excalibur restaurant from Bucharest, except it was bigger and it had much more entertainment (theater, fire eaters etc.). The effect of the entertainment on the slightly drunk tourists was quite funny, but I guess it was also pushing them to more eating and drinking.

The food also felt less medieval than in Bucharest. The menu contained plates such as bananas with meatballs in a doughnut-like shell (no idea what they’re called) which would have been difficult to prepare in the Middle Ages.

Amenajări Sir Lancelot

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Sunday morning we went back on Andrassy str. and on the the eastern exist of Budapest. The neighborhoods further from the center have been very much influenced by communism, looking very much like their counterparts from Prague or Bucharest.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

On the way to Bucharest we stopped in Deva to eat at the Ceapa Roșie (“Red Onion”) restaurant. The last time we were there we were impressed with the service and the food and we were eager to share this “secret” with the friends that accompanied us. Unfortunately we were bitterly disappointed this time – the food was terrible and the waitress seemed bored to an in inch of her life. If you have other recommendations from the area, please leave a comment – we would love to knon a good restaurant in Hunedoara county.

Budapesta 2012
Rating: ★★★★½

Would I go back?

Definitely! As a former imperial capital,Budapest has those dignified looks of the 19th century that make one want to explore it for much more than an weekend.

Alternatives

Any City Break in Europe will be just as good – find a cheap plane ticket and go for it. Closer to Bucharest you have Vienna or Bratislava. If taking a plane, go for Prague or Warsaw.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

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Extended Weekend: Bavaria

Posted by Strainu on December 12, 2012
From Bucharest / No Comments
Versiunea română aici.

The road

Map

Because we are talking about cities a few thousands kilometers from Bucharest (Munich and Nuremberg mainly), the transport will be made by plane. Of course, if you feel like a road trip, you could go by car, but it will take you at least 2 days to get there.

Both TAROM and Lufthansa have daily flights from Bucharest Otopeni to Munich, both early in the morning and later in the afternoon. Prices are usually around 120-150 EUR per return trip, except in Oktoberfest season. From Munich airport, there is the S-Bahn that can take you downtown or wherever your hotel is in the city.

To get from Munich to Nuremberg, you can take the plane (another 100 euros) or the ICE (high speed train), at about 50 euros the non-refundable promo ticket.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

The first time I was in Nuremberg, I stayed at a rather shady Mozart Hotel, an experience I don’t want to repeat. Fortunately, at my other trips I decided to use big chain hotels – both Accor and BestWestern have hotels for all budgets throughout Bavaria. This makes Germany compete win France at the number and variety of chain hotels.

You can safely pick a hotel in the suburbs of Munich for example, as S-Bahn service is regular and almost always on time.

Rating: ★★★★☆

What to see

Nuremberg

Nuremberg is a little on the downside when it comes to sightseeing – in fact, except the Castle and a few small museums, there is not much to see. However, if you’re interested in Nazi reminders, you can take the tram to the suburbs for some WWII-related places. In downtown, you will find the famous “Way of Human Rights“.

See the Wikivoyage article for details.

Human rights way
Human rights way
Tramvaiul-metrou
The tram sometimes becomes a metro here…
Nuremberg 2009
Castelul
The Nuremberg castle

Full collection of Nuremberg Photos at Flickr

Munich

Munich, on the other hand is a jewel of old architecture (as with many German cities, some of it was rebuilt after WWII) mixed with amazing 20th century architecture like the Olympic area and the BMW Museum and building.

Downtown

IMG_0157
IMG_0159
IMG_0242
Many bikes on a pedestrian road
IMG_0241
Metro (or U-Bahn)
IMG_0261
The palace (Rezidenz)
IMG_0258
Odeonplatz

Panoramic Views

IMG_0230
TV tower – from the cathedral’s tower
IMG_0228
Panoramic View. To the right of the picture you can see the BMW headquarters.

Museums

IMG_0175
IMG_0182
IMG_0186
Hyperinflation before the War meant stamping the money instead of reprinting.

The BMW Museum

(Almost) Everything in Munich revolves around BMW. So it makes sense for them to have a huge museum, just across the street from the huge factory and headquarters. As a note, the BMW headquarters are registered as a historic monument in Germany.
Sediul BMW
BMW headquarters
IMG_0274
The museum’s building
IMG_0275
The first exhibits: the classic BMW 326
IMG_0278
…next to the future fuel cell…
IMG_0281
…and electric cars.
IMG_0286
IMG_0359
BMW started with planes, the went on to produce motorcycles, cars and now even bikes.
IMG_0323
They also have an impressive F1 tradition, both in the past…
IMG_0325
…and present
And all that because of their great engines:
IMG_0380
IMG_0381

IMG_0404
The car above misses a red button. Can you guess where it should be?
IMG_0406
Well, probably in the gear lever, it’s a Bond car after all, right?

I’m ending the BMW Museum tour with one of the great-looking BMW art-cars. This one from Esther Mahlangu (1991)
IMG_0451

More great photos from the BMW museum and Munich at Flickr

Rating: ★★★★★

Alternatives

Any City Break in Europe will probably do it – just find a cheap plane ticket and go for it. We’ve already covered Prague, London, Lyon among others on this blog.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

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Asia 2011

Posted by Strainu on September 05, 2012
From Bucharest, My Projects / 2 Comments

At the express request of the public and almost a year late, I decided to publish the story of my trip to Asia last fall. The first part of the story is already available online at my tourist blog (Romanian only).

In all, there are 6 parts that will be published in the next 2 weeks at the same address. Next month we’ll have another article about the US! Stick around, it will be fun.

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Veliko Tarnovo Sound & Light Show

Posted by Strainu on October 14, 2010
From Bucharest / No Comments

You HAVE to see it if you go through the area…

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Extended Weekend: Băile Tușnad (more stuff)

Posted by Strainu on June 17, 2010
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

I told you last year about the wonderful time we had at Băile Tușnad. This year, we decided to return to that part of the country to run and to do some hiking. You will find the practical information in the older article, so I won’t return to that.

Zona Tusnad - Sf. GheorgheMasivul Puturosu

There are a whole lot of trails in the volcanic mountains around Tușnad (see the maps above), but since we only had a half-day at our disposal, we decided to concentrate on two parts: Tinovul Mohoș (the Mohoș Marsh) and Masivul Puturosu (Puturosu -Smelly- mountain) with its sulfurous caves and its own Marsh, called Buffogo.

Tinovul Mohoș is a “reversed marsh”, as the guide put it: at the last volcanic eruption in the region, a layer of solidified lava landed on a lake. On this layer, small plants began to grow, forming an ever thicker layer of soil. The soil is much like a sponge – if you step on it, a hole appears, wPlanta carnivorăhich quickly fills with water. Depending on its thickness, different plants can grow on it: at the edge of the lake grow real trees, while in the middle only small pines and flowers can survive. What’s interesting is that one of the species of plant here is carnivore (see the photo on the right). The small drops on it are the poison that dissolves the insects it consumes.

The access to this area is only allowed with a guide. The tours leave every hour and cost 3 RON (1,5 for children). Consider another 5 RON/car for parking.

The other area we visited is accessible from the Best Western hotel in Balvanyos. Take the road from Bixad to Sf. Ana, but instead of turning left at the crossroad, turn right and go for another 2 km, then park at the hotel. From there, just follow the track marked with a blue circle (see the second map above). It will take you to all the interest points on that mountain.

Unlike most of the peaks around it, Puturosu Mountain (1143 m) is formed mostly by sedimentation, with some areas, like the 60m wall near the Sulfurous Cave, where magma intruded during the last volcanic eruption.

The gas emanation from the mountain are the southernmost appearance of the volcanic elements in the Carpathians. Unlike other similar emanations, this one does not only contains carbon dioxide, but also hydrogen sulfide, which is responsible for the yellow deposits on the walls of the caves – see the images below. The gas is present to about 1m from the ground (as high as the color on the walls 🙂 ), and it has an almost instantaneous effect if you go below that height.

If you take the trail around the mountain clockwise, the first cave is also the most famous one, called simply “The Sulfurous Cave” (the first image from the left). It’s an old sulfur  mine. When smelling the level of gas, one can’t help wonder how were the miners surviving in that hole?

Peștera sulfuroasă20100606-IMG_3216Tinovul Buffogo

Going forward around the mountain, you will get to a second cave, called Timsós Cave (the image from the middle). This one has a smaller opening, but is much deeper, and it goes down vertically, which means it is filled with poisonous gas.

From there on, the trail becomes very narrow and slippery. People with fear of heights should avoid it. During rainy periods, you should be well prepared if you are going that way. If you’re unsure, it’s better to go back and take the other way around the mountain.

If you continue, you will end up going to a forest so dense it will remind you of all the jungle movies you have ever seen. 🙂

In the end, you will reach a new crossroad. If you go to the left, you return to the hotel. It’s much more interesting to go forward, to the Buffogó Marsh. This is much smaller than Mohoș Marsh, but the water is much closer to the surface, and there is no guide. This means that you will end up full of mud, but it’s also much more fun.

The flowers in the Marsh are the same as in Mohoș, but a striking difference are the gases that escape from the water, making it look like it boils (the picture from the right).

After you’ve had enough of the mud, go back to the crossroad and take the trail back to the hotel. On the way, don’t forget to stop by the Birds’ Cemetery and the Killer Cave.  The cemetery is a valley filled with gas, where many birds, but also mammals have died. The Killer Cave, just next to it, is the biggest of all the caves on the mountain. It’s called Killer because there is no sulfur deposit on the cave walls, which means there is no warning on the gases inside. You can still see dead bats inside if you have a light with you.

From now on, the rest of the road is just going around the mountain and ending at the hotel.

At the end of the trip, you can return and enjoy a panorama of the Sf. Ana lake:

Panoramă Sf. Ana

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Extended Weekend: Prague

Posted by Strainu on June 11, 2010
From Bucharest / 3 Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

Because we are talking this time about a more distant destination, the transport will be made by plane. The Czech airlines, CSA, has 2 flights daily from Bucharest Otopeni to Prague Ruzyne, one early in the morning and one in the afternoon. Prices are usually pretty high, but you can get a “City break” package from tourist agencies at excellent prices (for details, see the accomodation section below).

From the airport, there is a bus to the nearest metro station, which costs 26 CZK (the usual fare for Prague). From there, the metro should take you anywhere your hotel is.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

The best price to visit Prague is by choosing a “City Break” offer from tourist agencies. All of them sell the same package, from OK tours, which start from 199 EUR for flight + 3 nights in a hotel + breakfast. Of course, prices vary by the hotel. The hotels in the offer are:

  • Hotel OLYMPIC TRISTAR ***
  • Hotel ORION ***
  • Hotel SIBELIUS ***
  • Hotel U KRIZE ***
  • Hotel CHRISTIE ****

We chose the Olympic tristar, which is a little far from downtown, but with excellent public transport access. The building itself is a “classical” communist block, much like Romanian University dormitories, with small rooms and old furniture.

However, the rooms were clean, there was a TV and shower in the room and the breakfast was decent.

Rating: ★★★★☆

What to see

There is a whole lot to be seen in Prague, except the major tourist attractions. You should go through the more modern neighborhoods, like the 18th century buildings around the television tower with kids climbing on its side. They give you a different perspective on the city than the downtown. Or perhaps you would want to go follow on the footstepts of Kafka, the famous Czech writer, or the infamous soldier Svejk.

Turnul de televiziuneDSC07381

Of course, you shouldn’t miss the Prague Castle, the Jewish quarter (where you will find quite a few different nations actually, perhaps more than in other parts of the city) or Staré Město (the old city), including the astronomical watch.

Castelul PragaCeasul Astronomic

The Carol Bridge is a city on it’s own, with it’s many painters and souvenirs vendors. It is also the place to start if you are looking for a river trip. They’re a bit expensive compared with other European cities, but it’s well worth it. I recommend the small wood boats from Carol’s bridge instead of the large, impersonal metal boats that depart from other places on the river.

DSC09073DSC07536

On the other hand, you should avoid the museums, as they are unusually empty. For instance, the National Museum is a monster building, but the permanent exhibition would probably fit in the Military Museum from Bucharest.

DSC07562DSC07415

Rating: ★★★★★

Alternatives

Wien and Budapest seem likely replacements for those of you who already know Prague. The Hungarian airline, Malev, has an offer much like CSA’s, but the price is a little bit higher.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

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Extended weekend: Băile Tuşnad

Posted by Strainu on September 12, 2009
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

The quality of the roads are very different. Until Braşov the DN1 or DN1A are pretty good. So is the road from Braşov until Sfântu Gheorghe, although this portion has an unusually noisy overcoat. After that, there are plenty of potholes and the average speed is very low. The trip takes 4-5 hours by car.

By train, the trip takes 4.5-6 hours. There are a few direct trains from Bucharest, but most of the trains getting to Tuşnad leave from Braşov.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

There are plenty of private homes that offer accomodation, both in Băile Tuşnad and in neighboring villages. Most of them offer mediocre quality, but there are some good places to stay. There are also a few hotels left from the communist era for the most picky clients.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

What to see

There are a number of tourist trails from Tuşnad and the neighboring villages. You can go to the Sfânta Ana Lake by foot (3.5-4h) or to a sightseeing tower (15-30min.) from where you can see the whole Olt valley. There is also a cross you can visit, but the trail is pretty steep, so make sure you’re fit before going there.

In the city you have the Tuşnad sources, famous for their healing capacity and the Ciucaş Lake, which is little more than a poorly-maintained park with a pond in the middle.

Lacul CiucaşLacul Sf. AnaPe drumul dinspre Lacul Sf. AnaValea oltuluiTurnul

(Pictures made by Cathy and used with permission)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Alternatives

  • Sighişoara is a little further, but better known than Tuşnad.
  • In the same area, you can visit any number of hungarian towns or Târgu Mureş

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Weekend Trip: Buzău – Meledic, Muddy Volcanoes, Siriu Dam, Eagles’ Lake

Posted by Strainu on October 28, 2008
From Bucharest / No Comments

The road
Map

The quality of the roads on our path are very different. Until Buzău there is a European road, with 1.5 lanes. No problems there, most of the slower drivers go on the emergency lane, so you can overtake them without passing the middle of the road. Beware of the fixed and mobile radars.

From Buzău up until 10 km from the Meledic Plateau, the road is narrow, but in pretty good state. The same can be said about the road to the Siriu Dam.

The rest of the way is bad to desastrous. You have everything from country tracks to (theoretically) paved roads, where the asphalt is just a distant memory. If you want to get to the Live Fire (near Meledic), I strongly recommend a 4×4, even if any car will get you there if you hate it hard enough. 😛

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Accommodation

You can find hotels in Buzău and cabans and local homes on the rest of the road. The prices range from affordable to medium, but the quality is poor to none.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

What to see

Starting from Buzău, you can go to the Meledic plateau, home to some interesting salt formations, several salt caves (which hold some length records) and the only sweet water lake in the world to be formed on a salt mountain.

MeledicMeledicMeledicMeledicMeledic

From there you can go to the Muddy Volcanoes. It’s perhaps the best known tourist attraction in Buzău County. Beware not to fall in one of them. 😛 They’re not hot, so you’ll probably survive (if there is someone to pull you out), but you’ll have to be hosed before the mud dries.

Vulcanii NoroioşiVulcanii Noroioşi

The Siriu dam is one of the biggest rockfill dams in Romania. It’s placed on the Buzău River, near Siriu. From there, you can escalate the Podu Calului, Siriu and Monteoru mountains. It’s also the starting point to the shortest road to the Eagle’s Lake.

Barajul SiriuBarajul Siriu

Rating: ★★★½☆

Alternatives

A weekend at Horezu, in Oltenia, could be more to your liking.

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

Links

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